April 12, 2016

Friday, May 18, 2012

Portrait Poems Part 2

Happy Poetry Friday, Friends!

Some quick news, before today's poetry lesson. This week, I found out that my ekphrastic poem, "Fringe," was a finalist for the 2012 Rita Dove Poetry Awards. I am thrilled!

Those of you who remember me writing about the mud run I'm doing with my teenage son, it's this weekend. Fingers crossed that I survive.

Last, if you are in the Westminster, MD area, I am reading at the Carroll County Arts Council Thursday 5/24 at 7 PM. Poet Bruce Sager will be my partner in rhyme.

Yesterday, I introduced portrait poems to the Northfield third grade. We looked at a student poem in response to The Scream. (Yesterday's post, part one of the lesson, is here.)

Today, we are going to take a poem walk through the model poem, Shonto Begay's "Down Highway 163." About a year ago, I exchanged emails with Mr. Begay regarding this lesson. If you'd like to read our conversation, that post is here. I am grateful for his permission to share his work.

First, I share a little of Mr. Begay's background, which kids (and I) find both heart-breaking and fascinating. Then, we look at his painting, "Down Highway 163."

We list the facts of the painting, all of the things we can see. Kids get the idea quickly. We can say the person is cold because she is wrapped in a blanket and there is snow. We can't assume the person is homeless. That's not a fact we can see.

FYI -- if you live on the East Coast, as I do, your students might mistake that butte in the background for a building or an orange cloud. I usually take a minute to tell them what a butte is, often showing them a photograph of the real Highway 163 in Utah.

After we have all our facts, we can start the fun part of this exercise...imagining. I've had classes come up with many crazy and wonderful stories about this painting. In a recent one, the woman's sack was filled with cash she'd been saving for a long time. She was hitching a ride on the truck so she could get to the used car lot and buy her own car!

Now, it's time to see what the artist imagined about this character.

by Shonto Begay

The old lady in the back of the truck

Has seen days much colder
Someone's grandmother
On the highway towards Kayenta
Only her face shows from a faded blanket (5)
Her features are strong
Maybe she is related to the people in the front
Laughing and warm
Or maybe she is catching a ride to the trading post
She may even be returning (10)
From the health clinic in Monument Valley
The back of the truck is cold
Among old spare tires and chains
Shovels and bare metal box
She is no stranger to Old Man Winter (15)
She has seen many winters
It has been colder

Posted with permission of the author.

As I mentioned with last week's poem walk, I let the students guide the discussion. I have my "hoped for" points in mind. Most of the time, when I ask kids to share their favorite parts of the poem, the children will pull these lines out themselves.

Line 1: If students are stuck with their own poems, they can use this opening line strategy -- tell who, tell where.

Line 2: We'll come back to the connotations of the word "cold" by the end of the discussion and see how it threads through the poem. Many elementary schoolers have heard the idiom, "giving the cold shoulder" or understand (thanks to reality TV) "that was cold" is an appropriate response to an insult. The point is, "cold" can be used to describe disrespectful treatment -- not just the temperature. This is not an easy idea for all third graders, some of whom are concrete thinkers, so I'll need to spend time on this concept -- with their teacher's help.

Line 3: At some point in the discussion, I will ask, "Would you treat your grandmother this way?"

Line 6: How do we know this person is strong (see final two lines)? The students find this line as evidence. We talk about the idea that when a poet calls someone's facial features -- outer expression -- strong, that poet is suggesting the person is also strong on the inside.

Line 7-8: See my question about Line 3. We start to realize that it's pretty shocking that this elderly woman has been stuck in the back of a truck -- in the middle of winter -- by the drivers. Her family? We might talk about the idea that in Begay's Navajo culture, elders are treated with great respect.

Line 11: Some children will pick up on the idea that the woman might be sick. That makes us more bothered that she is in the back of the truck and not being cared for.

Line 13-14: Since we discussed the junk in the back of the truck (tire, shovel, box) when we looked at the painting, the students understand the metaphor here. If our woman is back there with the trash, how is she being treated? Like trash.

Line 15: Some children have not heard of "Old Man Winter." Explain that it's an expression similar to Mother Nature or Jack Frost.

Lines 16-17: We come back to the thread of "cold" layers in the poem now, both the weather and the treatment of this woman. The children will point out, when I ask them what they like about these two lines, that the woman is a survivor. They "get" that she has been through worse winters/experiences and will live through this.

After we read the poem one more time, I shower the kids with praise. It takes a lot of deep thinking to discuss a poem like "Down Highway 163" and they've done a great job.

At Northfield, we ask the kids to bring newspaper and magazine clippings for their portraits. The teachers and I usually bring in extras. While a simple portrait will work, I like to look for images that have story potential -- details, style of dress, or a setting that makes me say, "What's happening here?"

If the kids get stuck while they're writing, I suggest that they use Shonto Begay's strategy. Begin a new thread of imagining with the word "maybe."

In Mary's poem, there is a subtle suggestion of conflict between the girl going to a dance and the parents taking her photo.

A Pretty Teenager Going to a Dance
by Mary

My long blue dress with
brown curly hair and sparkly earrings
with the trees in the background
Me posing for a picture
But I want to go to a dance
to laugh and smile
dance with my friends
It's my first time so let me
have fun and laugh
talk with my friends
It will be the best time I ever
had with all my friends and me

Zoe's poem captures a friendship between two very different girls. (There was only one girl in the picture Zoe wrote in response to.)

My Crazy Friend Daisy
by Zoe

I see my friend
and what do I think
Well, I think she's crazy
in that pose

With her glasses on
doing her funny dance
I'm just sitting there watching
What a sight!
What a crazy friend.

But she still is fun
that funny friend of mine
in that pose
Oh, what a great friend!

Amber wrote about a fashion photograph.

Fancy Model Or...
by Amber

Walking on glass.
Wow, so hard.
How can she do it?
Oh, I don't know!
Or maybe a model
looking so cute.
Fancy necklace or bracelet or dress.
Fancy model walking on glass.
Feeling proud like "Wow, I'm doing it."
Walking up and down
above the clouds
like the queen of the word
or space.
Glasses in her hand, hand on her hip
seeing herself
lovely and sweet
like a professional model.
Oh, she is.
What is she thinking?
Looking up, not down,
focusing on her.
Her her her her her
just her.
Getting dizzy spinning around
turning, spinning, walking, turning.

Lilly's magazine clipping was simple: A young girl with a seashell by her ear.

The Waves
by Lilly

The waves are talking
I can hear them well
Through the shell the waves
are coming
I almost think they're coming
at me
The waves are talking.

I'll have a few more wonderful portrait poems on Monday, and then we'll move on to food poems. Yum!

Today's Poetry Friday host is Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat. Thank, Katya!


Robyn Hood Black said...

Thanks for sharing YOUR deep thinking about how you've shared this painting and poem with students, Laura. Very insightful. I love these poems by young writers, too - will be hearing Lilly's seashell whispering in my ear all day. :0)

Ruth said...

These portrait poems are a great idea. I'll have to try this with my students next year.

(If I've posted this comment twice, please only publish one. :-))

Author Amok said...

Hi, Robyn. The seashell poem is so simple, but so beautiful. The call of the waves...

Ruth, thanks! Definitely try it. You will be amazed at the way portrait poems encourage kids to think outside the box of their own writing habits and habitual topics.

Tabatha said...

Good luck on your mud run, Laura!

One of the great things about you, Laura, is how respectful you are of the students you spend time with -- you don't bring them something that will already be easy for them. You expect them to stretch themselves. (And you wind up with terrific results!)

Mary Lee said...

I love Lilly's poem!!

And I love the idea of this lesson! I'll be borrowing it...and using it in my own writing!!!

violet said...

What interesting points on teaching and lovely results. I think I will use some of your procedures and reflections the next time I try to write an ekphrastic.

And all the best in the Rita Dove competition. That's exciting!